What to Buy to Start a Bicycling Program
More and more people are turning to cycling for exercise, commuting, and errands around the neighborhood. Bicycles have long been known to be one of the most efficient forms of transportation;using a lower number of calories required per mile than cars, trains, planes, even walking. Cycling can be faster than driving for short trips on traffic-clogged streets, and best of all riding a bike is a perfect way to get exercise and fresh air. If you've been thinking about starting a cycling program for exercise or just to cut back on your driving, here are some pointers.
Choosing a Bicycle
The type of bike you buy is a matter of choice and the purpose for which you intend it. Road bikes are less comfortable because of their hard, narrow tires and "bent-over" riding position; but you can ride fast and far on a road bike. Mountain bikes have a more comfortable ride because of their fat, low-pressure tires and upright riding position; but both features contribute to slow travel. Road bikes perform poorly on dirt or gravel roads, where both hybrid and mountain bikes excel. Many commuters choose a touring or hybrid bike because they combine a comfortable position with a sturdy frame for potholed city streets, and are designed for the addition of racks and saddle bags to carry work clothes and laptop or other work gear.
Also consider the terrain: mountain bikes tend to have very low gears for climbing steep hills, while road bikes are more likely to have high gears for high-speed runs on the flats or slight inclines. Touring and hybrid bikes split the difference.
Other Bike Types
Lying Down on the Job
If an upright bike isn't an option due to back problems or other reasons, you can still get out on the road for exercise and fresh air with a recumbent bicycle. On a recumbent you sit on a broad seat with a back, and pedal with your legs almost horizontal. Specially-designed hand-cranked recumbents, like the one shown here, give paraplegics a means for cycling.
Also spring for gloves. You'll support a portion of your weight on your hands, so padding your palms makes sense. Gloves also keep you from ripping your palms to shreds if you take a spill. Most cycling gloves don't cover the whole finger, like these Pearl Izumi Select gloves (they're cooler that way), but you can get full-finger gloves for cooler weather.
You're crazy if you go more than a mile or so from the house without a pump (such as the Topeak Road Morph), tire levers, and a spare inner tube. Learn how to fix a flat and carry your repair gear, and you'll never find yourself trudging home dragging the bike again!
Whatever style of riding you choose, though, your ride will be more comfortable in shorts specially designed for cycling. These have padding to reduce the "pain in the rear" that afflicts new cyclists. Jerseys are also specially designed, made with new technological fabrics that wick way moisture and resist wind. Road jerseys are made with an extra-long tail in the rear to prevent "gaposis," and all jerseys have rear pockets for stowing gear or snacks where they won't be in the way.
Cycling is a year-round activity for many, so consider some cool-weather gear as well: tights, jackets, and gloves help keep away the chill.
When it comes to choosing a bike and all the other gear, you don't need to spend $4000 on a bike, but if you buy a heavy, clunky, poorly-made model at the local drugstore, it will be unpleasant to ride. And if it's unpleasant to ride, you'll quit before you get started.
Find a store that sells quality bikes and get something that will last and stay fun to ride. One advantage of a professional bicycling store is that the salespeople (usually) know how to fit a bicycle, something you can't count on at a discount department store or toy store. Keep an eye on end-of-season sales and even trade-ins, if the store fixes and sells them. A decent bike can make all the difference!
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